.::Identity pt. I

One of the main questions the task of adolescence answers for a teen is the question of “Identity.”  In other words, until a teen can answer the question, “Who am I?” they haven’t successfully navigated themselves to adulthood.

It is a painful process at time to watch individuals attempt to answer this question in some meaningless and often shallow ways.  Some students try to answer that with a girl friend or boy friend.  You know that person who went from relationship to relationship in high school.  It always seemed as if they couldn’t go two weeks without a significant other hanging off their arm.  It was as if they were trying to have that relationship as the marker of who they were.  Chances are that relationship was their attempt at trying to answer, “Who am I?”

Other students try to answer that question with outside achievements such as sports, drama, band, speech, etc.  I have witnessed students being shipped from one activity to the next without ever having two seconds of down time in order to put two thoughts together (or even eat a decent meal WITH their family.)  Coincidentally, I overheard two high school girls today talking about all the different activities they are involved in from track, half marathons, band, summer reading, soccer and more.  Sadly, they were lamenting the fact that they don’t get to see each other enough (I wonder why?)  Again, these hectic schedules to gain  trophies, letterman jackets, leading roles, first chairs, etc. are likely attempts to define who they were.

Students also try other external means to try to clothe themselves with a persona, literally.  I tried this my junior year in high school.  I was cursed with straight, straight hair that had no body whatsoever.  I longed for hair you could do SOMETHING with–so I tried a perm.  (I know it is difficult for many of you to even imagine me with ANY hair, not to mention a curly Barry Mannilow-esuqe frock that I donned for my unfortunate senior picture.  Cest la vie.  I was trying to be something that I wasn’t.  We all try on some persona from time to time to try to figure out what fits and what doesn’t.

THIS IS NORMAL?!?!?

Definitely.  These varied attempts to answer the important question of Identity is one of the main keys of the adolescent journey.  While we are all created in the image of God, we don’t all know what that image IS exactly, especially as we enter adolescence.

Just look at Madison Avenue’s complete onslaught on the adolescent psyche and its nefarious attacks at their fragile self-confident and malleable souls.  Billions are spent each year to target that precious 14-18 year old demographic.  They know how much disposable income teens possess and they know exactly what their weaknesses are and the advertising firms use pinpoint accuracy to target those weaknesses so that teens lessen their grip on those dollars.  The next time you see an advertisement that you don’t get, ask yourself, “What age group are they targeting?”  Chance are your answer will be 14-18 year old females.  Because Madison Ave., Hollister Co. Abercrombie, (Insert the store in the Mall you don’t Get here), Aeropostale, etc. all want to answer the question of Identity for the adolescent.  I remember feeling like I was somebody when I had a little green alligator on the left side of my chest.

The bottom line of that identity quest for an adolescent is that there are countless factors that go in to deciding who and what will answer that question for the teens you know.  Friends will undoubtedly have some influence, but not the overpowering master control many adults think that peers possess (more on that later in this series).  Ad firms will have some power.

My conclusion: Parents and Mentors perhaps have the most power in helping a student navigate the identity quest of adolescence.  Unfortunately, we haven’t done a good enough job of 1.  Being models and Persons WORTH emulating.  and 2. Speaking more boldly into the lives of young people and AFFIRMING their specific giftedness.  I will unpack HOW we can do this later in this series as well . . . so stay tuned.

COMING IN THE SERIES:

  • A Theology of Identity and the Teenager
  • More Theology of Identity and the Adolescent
  • Becoming a Guardian of the Adolescent Soul
  • What is a Parent to do? Practical Suggestions of Affirming the Identity of the teens in my life.
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